Stressful visits aren’t fun for anyone, and visitations that are rough on kids are counterproductive to your ultimate goal, which is to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. So we encourage parents to heed the following advice, which will help keep visitation with your kids running as smoothly as possible.
- Don’t over-schedule the visit
Parents should avoid the urge to try and fill every minute of a visit with a scheduled activity. Kids need some down time as well, and important bonding takes place during routine caretaking chores, such as helping with housework, preparing dinner, helping with baths, or simply hanging out together. Over-scheduling a visit will lead to stress for both you and your kids as you rush around trying to keep to the scheduled plan. Thus it works against your benefit, and against the goal of bonding with the kids. It’s perfectly fine to schedule activities that will let you have fun together, just balance it with some down time, too, and don’t try to pack too much into each visitation.
- Accommodate the child’s needs and interests
“In the hundreds of court evaluations and decisions that I have read and in thousands of conversations with parents, I’ve rarely heard a word about the importance of maintaining the child’s friendships and play activities.” – Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee (2000, p. 20)
Try to plan your time in a way that accommodates the child’s schedule, rather than having them constantly conform to yours. This means…
- Give yourself extra time at exchanges, so that you don’t have to immediately yank your child away from her friends or her activities. Making it a goal to give yourself at least half an hour is helpful. It allows your child time to say her goodbyes or maybe introduce you to her friends, and if they were involved in an activity, it allows them to more comfortably break away from it or even show you what they were doing. The reduced stress and all of the little parenting moments this allows can add up to make a big difference.
- Acquiescing to any sporting events or other activities the child may have had on their schedule, even if it means driving out of the way to get them there. Also try to work in any play dates or special events that a child was invited to.
- Who said visitation needs to mean abandoning your friends? Whenever it’s feasible, allow your child to bring a friend along with the visit.
- Involve your child in the planning process, and be flexible whenever possible For example, when picking up your daughter after school on Friday night, you might have been planning a trip to the lake. But throughout the week at school, all her friends had been talking excitedly about going to the new water park that’s opening. Or maybe they just went to Chuck-E-Cheese on a field trip, and would rather do something else. Maintain the flexibility to adjust your schedule according to your child’s interests or what happens in their life when you’re not there.
- Help kids make friends
Help your kids meet other children in the new neighborhood so that they can develop friendships in both places. A good way to do this is to throw a “welcoming party” when you get your new place and invite other kids around the neighborhood so that they get a chance to meet new friends.
- Find ways to make kids feel at home
Help children establish their own personal spaces in each home, even if it’s only part of a room. You should also work towards establishing everything they need at both houses, in order to minimize what needs to be shuttled back and forth. If there are items that must be brought back and forth, create a simple checklist. This may seem silly, but don’t underestimate the power of checklists, even when it comes to routine things. Checklists have helped experienced doctors drastically cut down on medical errors, and they can also help you limit forgotten items.
- Be forgiving of mistakes
Expect kids to be forgetful, and don’t overly nag your children about leaving clothes, toys, or other items at the other parent’s home. If they’re overly forgetful, help them out, and if you find it difficult to remember such things yourself, you can hardly fault them for doing the same. Making children feel bad about forgetting something at the other house adds additional stress to this already chaotic lifestyle. If you were placed in their position, I guarantee that you would forget stuff too. If it’s a comfort item that is of high importance, take the time to go back for it. These little things can make a big difference in how they view the process.